If one believes the hype around the new Blackberry 10, this is going to be the device that either makes or breaks the company formerly known as Research In Motion. After a poor 2012, the company’s hopes have been pinned on this new OS but it now seems that sales figures are not living up to expectations.
While Canaccord Gennity slashed their sales estimates from 1.75 million units to 300k, the tech site N4BB claim that the first BB10 handsets have sold out around the world. So will BB10 get BlackBerry back to the top, or is it fighting for third place in a two-horse race?
BlackBerry has belatedly understood that the battle for mobile customers is increasingly won or lost in the hearts and minds of app developers. The Android and iOS platforms have succeeded because of the number of apps available, while the phone-centric view of Nokia’s Symbian certainly contributed to the company’s 2011 implosion and a lack of apps was blamed for the slow take-up of Blackberry’s own Playbook.
To that end, BlackBerry has rebranded its App Store, BlackBerry World, trying to make it a one-stop shop for all the user’s entertainment needs. BlackBerry has also tried to win developers over by paying them to port Android apps, and advertising that average app revenue is highest on BlackBerry.
Further, the large installed base of BlackBerry users between the consumer and enterprise markets and the backwards compatibility of B10 to BB7, combined with the best HTML5 support on the market, suggests this will remain lucrative. The view is clearly that if the apps exist, customers will follow, and while the 70,000 apps on BlackBerry World at the launch of BB10 is smaller than those of iOS and Android, it’s respectable and likely to grow.
Ultimately it’s users that will determine the success or failure of BB10, and there’s plenty for them to like. On the hardware side, the 4.2″ screen has better resolution than the iPhone 5 and the phone has good call quality. The battery life gets mixed reviews, with some reviewers complaining while others say it stands up well to intensive browsing and media use, although this could be down to whether the reviewer is comparing the BB10 to their legacy BlackBerry with its week-long battery life, or more representative recent iPhones and Androids.
The soft keyboard on the Z10, the only phone released to date with a traditional Q10 arriving in April, is considered to be the best on the market, with smart typing software that learns the user’s style and avoids the false positives that lead to the “fat fingers” issue. The new user interface with its active frames, essentially miniaturised versions of the most used apps, and full gesture controls may take a bit of getting used to.
Blackberry argues that they have improved on how apps are traditionally displayed, although some reviewers find the lack of a home screen can be disorientating. The BB10 browser is very promising with Flash support, now gone from iOS and Android, it has the best HTML5 support, and browser comparison tests suggest browsing speeds are higher than those on iOS or Windows Phone.
The QNX kernel in BB10 seems able to bring more integration of entertainment and phones than has previously been possible: it can provide multi-display support on in-car entertainment systems which share QNX, and Blackberry developers hint that there are some new developments in the works around proximity detection to other phones. One negative aspect of the new phone is that the much-loved end-to-end encrypted push emails have gone from Blackberry Internet Services, with that function now only residing in Blackberry Messenger.
Regardless of how popular BB10 could become, it appears that mobile carriers remain cautious about building up a large stock of the new devices as consumer demand for high end BlackBerrys has been low. Although carrier execs in the UK appear to have a good understanding of the new OS and all major carriers are selling BB10, US carriers appear to be hedging their bets by initially only stocking a small range, at least until the market looks clearer. Added to BlackBerry’s withdrawal from the Japanese market, this implies that the company may be heading for a future as a niche player with tactical targeting of markets, at least until demand grows for the new OS.
Overshadowing the launch of BB10 is of course the fact that we are likely to see launches of new Android and Windows Phone devices in the near future, as well as a new iPhone. Given that BlackBerry is currently competing with Windows Phone and Microsoft’s enterprise heritage for third place in a market that may not be able to sustain more than two major players, its future is hardly assured, but with BB10 Blackberry may have given itself the best chance of success.
I wrote recently about Blackberry’s big plan to get back to the top, which had four key components: a renewed focus on the enterprise market; potentially licensing BB10; rebranding its app store and creating a large number of apps for BB10. The last two appear to be the most successfully addressed, although long-term success will depend on keeping revenues high for developers.
Focus on the enterprise market looks strong, and the Q10 with its traditional QWERTY keyboard will likely be a big hit with this market. The most interesting possibility at the moment are the rumours surrounding the QNX kernel and its potential to integrate with other devices, as this has the potential to change the way we see our mobile devices and interact with all our other technologies.